Sunday, September 1, 1996

Joe Bermingham

Joe Bermingham, the politician, has been buried with statesman-like pomp and ceremony. A Castlemitchell man born in May 1919, Joe was not a statesman, and had no aspirations to be one. He was a man of the people, a term now in popular currency, but one not always accurately applied as it has been in Joe’s case. Conscious of his being at the heart of events in Castlemitchell stretching back over many years, I had often urged Joe to write his memoirs. I don’t think in the end that he did, and so his death deprives us of the opportunity to gain an invaluable insight into the social history of his area and of his time. Joe was a priceless repository of knowledge concerning the events and people of Castlemitchell, and he was uniquely placed to accurately record and interpret the happenings of many decades past.

It was Joe Bermingham who, on his return from the O’Brien Institute in Marino, Dublin in 1936, arranged with Jim Connor the meeting which led to the formation of Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club. Joe had played football in Dublin, while Jim Connor who attended the Christian Brothers School in Athy, won two county minor championship medals with Athy in 1937 and 1938. The most popular field sport in Castlemitchell at that time was cricket, with teams representing local farmers, Anderson’s and Young’s. Indeed cricket was possibly the most popular sport in South Kildare during the 1930’s, as cricket teams were also to be found in Kilcrow, Ardreigh, Taylor’s of the Moate and Lefroy’s in Cardenton.

That first meeting of Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club was held on the side of the road under the beech tree near Comerford’s gate. In attendance with Joe and Jim were Jack Corcoran, Bill Phair, a Wexford man who sold timber blocks around the Castlemitchell area, James Byrne, John Fennin, Mickie Myles and Paddy Myles. The first club chairman was Joe Bermingham, with Jim Connor as club secretary. Fintan Brennan, District Court Clerk in Athy and a member of Athy Gaelic Football Club and Kildare County Board, invited the new club to join a street league competition in the town. The Castlemitchell Club was to play in Athy’s street league competition for three years up to 1938, and the interest developed in Gaelic football in the area led to the speedy demise of cricket-playing in the area.

Following the street league the Castlemitchell club was invited, again by Fintan Brennan, to affiliate with the Kildare County Board G.A.A. Castlemitchell G.F.C. played its first competitive game, as a registered club, at junior level. Joe Bermingham played at full-back in those early years in front of Jim Connor who was the goal keeper. The teams colours were initially all white, but following affiliation to the county board, the club was obliged to change to green and white, to avoid a clash with the Clane Club which played in the lilywhite strip.

Joe’s mother had a shop in the old RIC barracks in Castlemitchell, supporting herself and her three sons, Pa, John and Joe. Pa, who later worked in the IVI, died many years ago, while John, better known by his Irish name Sean Mac Fheorais, subsequently qualified as a school teacher. Joe who sold insurance and worked as a rate collector before entering politics, was justifiably proud of his brother Sean’s literary success. Sean, who died in 1984, had published two books of Irish poetry “Gearrcoigh Na hOíche” and “Léargas - Dánta Fada”, both of which were well received.

The young men of Castlemitchell gathered each evening outside Mrs. Bermingham’s shop, sitting on the row of large stones, in the area known as Barracks Cross. It was there in or about 1948, that Joe Bermingham, Jim Connors and others decided that Castlemitchell needed a Community Hall. Joe with Jim Fennin and Jim Connor were the first trustees of the hall which was built by voluntary labour in the early 1950’s.

Castlemitchell Hall is still a focal point for community activity in the area. Joe Bermingham’s record of achievement in Castlemitchell is impressive, and his legacy, shared with others, of a Community Hall and a Gaelic Football Club, is a fitting reminder of the contributions he made to one of the most vibrant rural communities in South Kildare.

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